Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque has refused to comment on the critical statement of his former law firm criticizing the decision of the Securities and Exchange Commission to cancel the corporate registration of news websit Rappler. Presidential Photo/Ace Morandante, File

SEC order comes with 'heavy presumption of unconstitutionality'
Audrey Morallo ( - January 16, 2018 - 9:19pm

MANILA, Philippines — Centerlaw, the former law firm of presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, criticized the shutdown order on news website Rappler as coming with a "heavy presumption of unconstitutionality."

"At best, the SEC’s decision is a prime example of outrageous legalism blind to law's greater purposes; at worst, it is one cloaked with unconstitutional motivations," Centerlaw said in a statement released on its social media account.

It added that the shut down order was tantamount to "prior restraint" and stressed that the Constitution, which placed ownership restrictions on Philippine mass media, had placed free expression "at the topmost rungs" of constitutional freedoms.

"The alleged failure of Rappler to comply with constitutional restrictions on foreign ownership of Philippine media entities aside, the SEC’s decision is tantamount to prior restraint, and therefore comes with the heavy presumption of unconstitutionality," Centerlaw said.

Citing the case of Philippine Blooming Mills case with G.R. No. L-31195, Centerlaw said that the right to free expression had been considered as the preferred rights to others, even those involving property rights.

Roque has defended the SEC move and said press freedom was not the heart of the issue.

In a text message to on Monday, he stressed that it was the Constitution that barred foreign ownership in mass media.

He defended his boss, President Rodrigo Duterte, against insinuations that he was behind the cancellation following Rappler's unflinching coverage of his administration especially his brutal war on drugs.

Roque said that the president found it unfair for Rappler CEO Maria Ressa to claim that the order was a form of harassment which violated the freedom of the press.

However, on the statement of his former law firm, Roque declined to comment.

"None," he told when asked to react to Centerlaw's scathing statement.

Centerlaw said that the Supreme Court had ruled that not every violation could be used as a justification for the stifling of free speech and called on the government to consider the wider picture before penalizing the exercise of the freedom of expression.

Roque's former law firm said that the move to cancel Rappler's corporate registration could be linked to Duterte's public attacks on the news website by the fact that it was Solicitor General Jose Calida who moved to investigate the firm's ownership.

Centerlaw also hit the president for his public vitriolic attacks against the press, saying that such statements, coming from the most powerful person in the country, could be construed as "prior restraint" considering its chilling effect on media men.

"What the Solicitor General did is what lawyers call a “collateral attack” – restraining a known critic of the government’s drug war, not by directly censoring it but by cancelling its corporate registration," Centerlaw said.

The SEC should have given Rappler a chance to correct its ownership structure instead of getting down to business right away with "guns blazing," according to Centerlaw.

Rappler claims of being denied what SEC had given to other firms also smacked of lack of due process and unequal treatment, which are considered "unconstitutional acts."

Opposition senators, international human rights groups and media watchdogs and organizations have criticized the SEC decision and said that it was an infringement into the freedom of the press to report and hold government officials accountable.

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